With so many people getting disgusted with the political process, there are a lot of people who are trying to draw attention to candidates who don’t fall into traditional categories. We saw a lot of those candidates pop up during the 2018 midterm elections and a new documentary released on Netflix has attempted to give an in depth look at four of those candidates.
The documentary, Knock Down the House, follows four progressive women who ran against incumbent Democrats during the Democratic primary. Perhaps the most well known person is featured (potentially because she’s actually the only one who actually won her primary) is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ocasio-Cortez launched her campaign to represent parts of the Bronx and Queens in the House of Representatives on a shoestring budget by trying to build grassroots support that could eventually defeat a incumbent in Joe Crowley who was the powerful Chair of the House Democratic Caucus (in other words, the fourth highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives). Not only did he have a national profile and the power that goes along with it, but he also control over local campaign infrastructure because he was the Chairman of the local Queens County Democratic
Since these were insurgent, non-traditional candidates going up against well funded establishment candidates, the issue of fundraising was brought up several times during the documentary. Not only were the challengers often operating on a shoestring budget, but they were going up against incumbents who were receiving millions from large corporations and their PACs during every election cycle. This was highlighted by how candidates like Amy Vilela in Nevada attracted some support by refusing to take donations from corporate PACs.
The money gap, however, was partly responsible for why Ocasio-Cortez and others were able to be dismissed so easily by the mainstream media or leaders in the local political establishment. Crowley’s victory was so assured, after all, that there was no public polling conducted and even a last minute internal poll from AOC’s campaign showed her about 35 points down.
As a side note, even with the passion that Ocasio-Cortez stirs up among the Democratic base, the money debate is something that still has an impact on the political climate inside the Democratic Party. The party has released new rules saying vendors who help out primary challengers cannot receive contracts from the party. Especially among people who believe in holding leaders of both parties accountable, this has created quite the stir and a lot of people have begun expressing their disappointment in the policy — including myself.
I received a fundraising phone call from the DCCC late last week. Now, I’m on their list because I’ve given to the organization in the past, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that they gave me a call. While I was polite and let the woman calling do her pitch, I eventually let her know I wouldn’t be donating unless the DCCC removed its rule regarding supporting primary challengers.
In response to this, the woman started yelling at me (literally yelling) and telling me that doing away with the rule would only help the Republicans. Setting aside how yelling at me certainly wasn’t going to convince me to give some money, it goes to show that there is a lot of infrastructure developed to protect incumbents and supporters simply blindly believed that any attempt to hold them accountable would solely help “the enemy” — in the case of the woman calling me from the DCCC, conservative Republicans.
What this belief system fails to take into account is that if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t win her primary, we would have never seen such a strong progressive representing New York’s 14th District. Now that she’s in the House, however, we have a vocal opponent to Donald Trump’s policies and a champion for the people who brings her working class background to the halls of Congress.
Even sitting aside the whole money issue, the documentary also highlights how Ocasio-Cortez struggled to even be invited to crucial community events while she was initially launching her campaign. She was almost shut out of a forum, for instance, which would have denied her an opportunity to receive the attention that Crowley could simply buy with all his corporate PAC donations.
Through primarily focusing in on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the documentary brings an air of hope that even the “little guy or girl” can actually help change the political system. The plain and simple fact that a woman with little name recognition was able to mount a successful campaign against such a powerful Congressman might prove inspirational to progressives who are looking for someone to believe in. As we are now seeing some scrappy campaigns such as that being run by Pete Buttigieg, it might also have an impact on the 2020 presidential campaign.
In a time when we see such over the top personalities featured by the 24 hour news cycle, the documentary also provided several intimate reminders that politicians are people too. We saw Ocasio-Cortez tear up while thinking of her father, another person crying while discussing the loss of a daughter who’s death could have been prevented if her health insurance had covered certain procedures, and other candidates struggling with the sheer emotion that a campaign can drag up.
Knock Down the House is worth watching as it reminds us we have leaders out there who are fighting for everyone, not just the rich and powerful.